Note: this was originally drafted on December 26th. Much has been moved to another draft so that this can be completed….
The December 25th post (Soul Food – for a Hungry Soul) simultaneously overlaid several themes. One was the question of how much error must be injected into truth to make it an untruth. In springboard diving, one can approach the dive by facing forward and rotating forward (front dive), facing forward and rotating backward (reverse dive), facing backward and rotating backward (back dive) and facing backward and rotating forward (inward dive). Let’s take a different approach than yesterday.
In engineering, it is not uncommon to hear the meme, “essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” In short, engineering is based upon models of the “real world” that are approximations. Some approximations are better than others. None are perfect. Nevertheless, it is quite astounding what humanity has been able to do with these imperfect models: the Hubble telescope, atomic scale microscopes, computers, MRI, 3D printing, hyper-sonic flight, and so very much more. These are amazing, if not nearly miraculous creations, which have added to our lives knowledge, capability, understanding, beauty, and so very much more. Said differently, all of these wonders were born of imperfect models.
Reflecting back on life prior to joining the LDS Church, I was a mess, brought up to be dishonest in virtually every respect, believing my own lies and oblivious to (filtering out) truth. It is a miracle of a different sort that today Joy and I live closer to truth (hoping and praying that our current state isn’t a more advanced or complex state of self-deception).
Along the way, having thought “the Church is (unequivocally) true” and by having conformed to that truth, I imagined we were living a life based upon pure, absolute truth (see more at Backgrounder). The imperfections of the model (LDS culture and institutional teachings) were not evident. The model was and is imperfect, but was it and is it useful? Where would I be today without it?
So which is it?
- Even one deer dropping is enough to destroy a banana split
- All models are wrong, but some are useful
Now, lest we become distracted, this isn’t about judging or condemning people for their imperfections. This is about truths and untruths, and what we do about imperfect truths. My son sent me this quote on Jan 12 in response to prior posts (I presume the emphasis is his and not the version of text he copied):
“…surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.
The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise–does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.” C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
In this, Lewis seems to presume we have the wisdom to discern components of truth and untruth and the prudence to respond appropriately. He seems to be willing to pluck out the droppings, and dig right in. Perhaps he rejects both the the droppings and the imperfect models. While this sounds like a brilliant solution, I ain’t dat smart, not ‘nuf to reliably discern d’difference.
While quoting stuff, what do we think this means?
…Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil (1 Nephi 14:10).
Sounds kinda deer-droppy-ish. In the LDS church, don’t we generally believe that we are “the one” and everyone else is “the other?”
All churches teach some truth, whether they profess belief in Confucius, Buddha, the Greek and Roman gods, or anything else; otherwise their churches would not endure a month. The fact that they teach some truth does not make them the Church of God. There is but one Church of God.” Doctrines of Salvation 3:271 (emphasis mine)
But, how does that fly when there is so much that is contradictory and can’t therefore be true (e.g., either the Adam-God theory is correct doctrine, or it is false doctrine; either the Lectures on Faith are cannon or not; Joseph Smith didn’t practice polygamy, no, wait, yes he did, no wait, he really didn’t)? Add in the mix those things that were taught, but are now deprecated/ignored. Sprinkle on top changes to word definitions with the resultant change in meaning (e.g., prophet, seer, revelator). It’s a mess, pure and simple. Fertilizer everywhere! Are we then also one of “the other” churches? Or, are we “the one true church” because we have fewer deer droppings than they do? Or, is it because at one time the Lord declared the following and we presume that if this had been rescinded, He would have told us outright.
…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually — for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:30–31)
In this context, what does “the church is true, but not all of it” mean (see: Fork in the Road)? Rescindment?
It seems a mistake to conflate untruth with sin. While the aforementioned untruths may have been the consequence of sin, would we claim that all errors in judgement/truth (doctrine) are inherently sinful? If so, then the above scripture adds force to the contention that not even a one dropping is tenable.
If we hold to this extreme, then do we discard the good that these various churches do (through their members; including the LDS), because their doctrines are imperfect. We are not talking about people, there is no question about our imperfection? Still, do we believe that we, being imperfect and impure, and disciples of imperfect doctrine are therefore incapable of doing good?
We believe all churches have some truth. Does this mean that they all have some utility? Some ability to bring mankind closer to God?
Watch, for the adversary spreadeth his dominions, and darkness reigneth; And the anger of God kindleth against the inhabitants of the earth; and none doeth good, for all have gone out of the way. (Doctrine and Covenants 82:5–6)
…there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. (Mark 10:17–18)
Ouch. We quite naturally apply this to everyone else. That couldn’t mean us.
Let’s try one last approach. Perhaps there is a clue, here:
And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God. (Moroni 10:24–25)
Can we interpret this to mean that if we work, though imperfectly (e.g., imperfect understanding, imperfect execution, imperfect motivation) by the power and gifts of God, all will be well?
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in [one with?] Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after [one with?] the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4)
I could go on, but won’t. The point is more than sufficiently made.
What seems most untenable is me. I am neither in the boat, nor am I out of it.
The fundamental question remains, and I remain halting between opinions, though leaning strongly towards the last.